This song wasn’t a hit. Well, not the Beatles’ version, that is.
It was a top twenty hit for Bette Midler almost twenty-five years ago. Judy Collins did a memorable version of it in 1967. And it’s also been covered by Johnny Cash, Ozzy Osbourne, Jim Brickman, Stephen Stills, Keith Moon and the Cast of “Glee”.
Believe it or not, Sean Connery even recorded a version!
The reason it wasn’t a hit for the Beatles was pretty simple. In those days, the Beatles believed that singles and albums were different things. Songs that were to be released as singles weren’t on their album, and songs recorded for their albums weren’t released as singles.
Originally, John Lennon wrote “In My Life” as a kind of chronicle of his childhood. He didn’t like the first draft, which he thought was too much like "the most boring sort of 'What I Did On My Holidays Bus Trip' song".
So, he reworked into a kind of meditation on his past, a tribute to the places he’d been and the people, alive or dead, that he’d known.
We all have places we’ve been to that have special meanings to us. For some, it’s because a special event occurred in that space. For others, it’s because that’s where they find peace.
The ocean is the latter for me.
There is just something about it that soothes my soul. I’ve been to beaches up and down the Atlantic coast and, while different towns and communities make each unique in their own way, the result for me was always the same. I could relax. I could let go of daily/weekly/monthly stress. I could heal.
Now that I live on the opposite side of the country, I’m pleased to report that I have the same reaction to the Pacific. In fact, often times when I meditate, that’s where I go.
Right there, sitting on the bench, staring into the ocean while it stares back into me.
One of the things that brings me peace at the ocean is the enormity of it all. I can sit on that bench and look to the north, and there’s nothing but ocean stretching out to infinity. Perhaps Sarah Palin’s house is up there somewhere, or, if I’m looking a few degrees west, perhaps that’s Russia.
Looking straight ahead, it’s the same. Somewhere out there is Japan, but all I see is blue ocean.
And if I shift my gaze to the south, more of the same. Antarctica is down there somewhere, but it’s just more ocean to me.
While it may not be as infinite as looking into space, it feels like it is. And it feels old and wise. Those waves have been rising and crashing long before I found this bench. And they’ll keep on rising and crashing long after I’m gone.
Technologies have been invented and become obsolete. Empires have risen and fallen. Dinosaurs became fossils. And the ocean kept trucking along.
The seemingly infinite size of the ocean makes me feel like I can dump any problem I have in there, and the ocean can take it and that problem is never seen or heard from again.
Something as small as a stack of bills. Plunk. A troubling person. Plunk. Car repairs. Plunk. Anything I want. Mortgage or home repairs stressing me out? The whole house can go in there. Job issues? I’ve dumped ten story buildings in there and they vanish without a trace.
I know it’s kind of symbolic. And when you break it down to talking about throwing people in there, it’s kind of petty.
But it’s also therapeutic.
The ocean is eternal. It’s been churning for longer than we can ever really know, and it will keep going long after we’re gone. So whatever problem I’m imagining that I’m throwing in there is such a small, tiny thing that, certainly as far as the ocean is concerned, it doesn’t really matter.
I think that’s one of the things it’s hard for us to see. The things that weigh us down, keep us up at night and otherwise make us crazy…in the grand scheme of things, they’re tiny things that really don’t matter that much.
Think about where you were ten or twenty years ago, and the things that were stressful to you then. Can you even remember them? And if you can, do they matter now?
I’m not suggesting you shirk responsibilities. We all have bills to pay. We all have obligations. But we can also deal with those things without letting them cripple us.
Some problems are big. I certainly get that. But instead of focusing on that feeling of overwhelming helplessness, try to imagine yourself a little farther down the road. Is this something that will stick with you? If not, throw it in the ocean. If it will still be with you, then figure out how to whittle it down to a manageable size.
While going to the ocean doesn’t solve all my problems, it does help me get perspective, and feel a little better about whatever I do still have to grapple with.
I mentioned before how “In My Life” was a kind of meditation for John Lennon, and when anyone uses the word “meditation”, it raises flags.
Meditation isn’t some crazy, California thing. And it’s not about hypnosis, so you don’t have to worry about thinking you’re a chicken. It’s simply imagining yourself somewhere that you can find peace.
For me, I imagine I’m at the ocean.
I’ve been there enough times in person to be able to catalogue, and recall, how it plays out across all my senses.
The sunlight on the water, looking like millions of diamonds spread out from horizon to horizon.
The sound of the waves, crashing and building and crashing again, before finally slapping against the shore.
The breeze that is almost always blowing, cooling against my skin, sometimes making me forget that the sun is out there, not caring whether or not I remembered to put on sunscreen.
The rich scent of all that is the beach – the saltwater thick in the air with a touch of Coppertone.
And the salty taste of the ocean air, subtle but unmistakable.
Think about places you’ve been. Is there somewhere that kind of fits that bill? Some place that you know well enough to recall the sights, the sounds, even the taste?
If not, you can always create a place. Just imagine what it would be like, and imagine how all your senses respond.
And if that’s too difficult, you’re always welcome to use my bench. And while you’re there, you can feel free to dump all your troubles in my ocean, too.
Ken Kessler has always been interested in psychic phenomena, and like Mulder on the X-Files, wants to believe. But like most, he tends to look for, and accept, rational explanations. (More)